Ryo Arai & ITARO – Essence of Edo-Tokyo at the ICN gallery

Last week I went down to the ICN gallery to see their latest exhibition: Ryo Arai & ITARO – Essence of Edo-Tokyo.

The exhibition features two artists:

Ryo ARAI (b.1958; Tokyo, Japan)
Arai is a rare figurative artist in Japan specialising in traditional Japanese papier-mâché, an artisan craft inherited from the traditional papier-mâché toys originally from the Edo period. Such disciplines are now under threat of extinction. As an artist he has positioned himself to extend the possibilities of paper and continues to create and express everything with this humble medium. His style of papier-mâché realism is well-known as book cover designs for a popular writer Kyogoku Natsuhiko’s “Bakemonotsuzura” (Monster bag).

Gotokuneko by Ryo Arai
Gotokuneko by Ryo Arai

ITARO (b.1961; Chiba, Japan)
While mainly creating detailed carving work using netsuke carving techniques, ITARO also makes two-dimensional works under his name ITARO Yamamoto. He is creating work that utilizes the techniques of both block print and netsuke carving.

Nejishiki 1 by Itaro

Nejishiki 1 by Itaro

Both hariko (traditional Japanese paper mâché) and netsuke (a traditional miniature carving) are specialty carving techniques whose roots date back to the Edo period (over 400 years ago). This exhibit features modeling artist Ryo Arai’s technique-filled “Yokai Hariko” series which draws on Japanese ghost tales, and unique two & three dimensional works by ITARO who is pursuing a new genre combining the technique of both woodblock engravings and netsuke carving.

Sazae by Ryo Arai

Sazae by Ryo Arai

Arai creates mysterious, vulgar, possessed, goblin-like creatures from another world which are believed to bring disaster to human society. Utilizing techniques from Edo karakuri, transom sculpture, netsuke and noh theatre mask making, his transcendent techniques make it hard for the viewer to believe that his work is actually made out of paper.

Battle Fish by Itaro

Battle Fish by ITARO

ITARO’s remarkable talent as a contemporary sculptor is recognized from the result of works, which unites his techniques, effort and talent in the design full of ingenuity, structure and form. His exhibited sculptural works ‘the baby’ and ‘the aged’ both have screws on their backs. Based on the ‘tin toys’ that Japan produced for exportation to gain foreign currency after World War 2, they are an ironic symbol of modern Japan’s speedy economic rise. For the 2D artworks, all the engraved images have been printed onto partially transparent acrylic sheets that let light come through like Japanese lanterns.

Both artists’ attitude towards creation is to discover new things the through scrutiny of the past.

Ryo Arai with some of his work

Ryo Arai

The exhibition is on until 19th November, so there’s still plenty of time to check it out. The ICN gallery now also has a cafe and a shop, so make sure you fuel up on some delicious food while you’re there, and maybe get a bit of Christmas shopping done!

ICN gallery, 96-98 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4RH; open Monday – Saturday, 12:00–7:00pm

Ogama by Ryo Arai

Ogama by Ryo Arai

(The text in this post is compiled from press release information from the ICN gallery. All photos are my own.)

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